Achievements, Goals

Well, it’s goals and achievements time. For those who aren’t curious about this part of the writing process — where you look on your achievements and make new goals — feel free to skip this post and not look back.

I set myself a few writing goals for 2007. The first one was that I would sell at least 3 stories. I managed to achieve that by mid-year, so I decided I should have been more ambitious, and decided to go for double. My thinking was that it was something out of my reach, and therefore it would motivate me to work harder.

Well, as of a couple of days ago, I got my sixth acceptance of the year (plus a novella on hold somewhere else for further consideration). I’m quite pleased with my publication record so far. To date, I’ve made 32 fiction submissions, and sold 6. This gives me an acceptance record of a little over 18%, which is quite good, I’m told.

(It’ll be nice when I actually see more of the pieces in print, of course, but sometimes it just takes time. Currently, half of my acceptances are in print, which means three of my acceptances are not yet out in print or online.)

I also think I’ve made strides in terms of writing itself. I’ve developed more of a voice, found ways of intensifying my storytelling, experimented with humor (dark and otherwise), played with tropes from several genres I’m not used to working in — “fantasy/new weird,” for example, and one stab at “space opera” — and gotten a lot smarter about reworking my own stuff, more merciless with the editorial scalpel, and more mindful of my beginnings. I’ve even experimented with settings toward which I don’t naturally tend, like a near-future Burma, a colony planet, and a small town in Texas.

So things are coming along on that side of the work, too.

But it’s time for some new goals, and I’m still working them out in my head. I think the basic shape of them will be like this:

Submitting and Publishing

  • Think Big. Submit each completed work to at least two suitable pro markets (if any exist) before moving on to semiprozines and the trunk.
  • Keep Up Better. Explore new markets aggressively, expanding my reading habits, and try to keep up to date on my subscriptions. Let subscriptions go if the magazine does not regularly engage me, and subscribe to other magazines instead.
  • Write My Stories. Balance writing for anthologies or calls for submissions with writing those stories I just naturally want to write. I’ve had relatively good success following Calls for Submission, after all: Machine of Death and Postcards From Hell both bought stories that I had wrote explicitly for their market. But it’s also a good idea not to spend too much time writing stories to others’ specifications. Better I experiment with my own ideas and submit ready stories that fit, only writing to market calls when I have nothing that fits and the call inspires an interesting enough idea to motivate me. (As both Machine of Death and Postcards from Hell did.)
  • Keeping Selling at the Current Rate. I may not be able to keep up my acceptance rate, but I can indeedkeep selling stories if I keep sending them out. I need to stay on top of the inbox and outbox, and keep sending stuff out on a regular basis. So I need to sell at least 6 stories in the next 12 months. Preferably a couple more.

Writing and Craft

  • Get a Real Handle on Humor. I tend to write a lot of black humor. I want to get good at humor that is rooted in voice or attitude, in the way a narrator parcels out information, in situations, and so on. I think when I get a better handle on how to work with the bizarre, then I’ll be able to use humor in a more powerful way.
  • Make It New. I observed at Clarion West that I don’t want to just be “that SF in Korea guy,” because at least half of the stories I wrote there had some element involving Korea or Koreans in them.1 I’ve succeeded at this in some ways — not only by setting some stories in China and Japan and Burma, but also by working with non-East Asian characters and settings — but I think it’s a good time to try to branch out even more. More female characters, which for some reason I’m writing less often these days; characters of different age groups that I haven’t explored much yet; more settings that I haven’t explored yet, and I don’t mean just different countries. Workplaces, living situations, periods of time… all of these I could explore more widely.
  • Language Pop. One thing that strikes me about the way I used to write, say, five or tenyears ago, compared to now, is that my prose is much more pedestrian these days. Some of my youthful experiments were a little over the edge, perhaps too distractingly wild in their use of neologisms and irregular structures, but I still think there’s something there worth recapturing. There’s something about inventiveness of language that ties to uniqueness of voice, something that makes stories unusual. Torquing up language is something my poetry instructor Tim Lilburn once stressed to us, and it’s something I carried over into prose. Now, having cooled off on it is definitely a good thing — I used to carry it too far — but I think there’s a degree to which recapturing it would lend new strength and vitality to my writing. Probably a major reason I’ve moved away from it is that I usualy use English in very straightforward, clear ways in my daily life, and don’t write verse anymore. Perhaps I should work on poetry again. I have a lot of poems to revise and send out as it is, and maybe I’ll rediscover some of that lost torque again.
  • Compression. I’m still working on getting the short form — 3,000-5,000 words — right. I’m quite happy with 7,500, or even 6,500 words, but 3,000 is so little, I struggle to even begin to tell a story at such a length.
  • Beginnings of Both Stories and Scenes. I am working on the beginnings not just of stories, but of whole scenes. I don’t mean trying to find a way to litter a story with hooks, but rather just learning to think of each scene break as an omission, like an editing cut in film. The next scene starts from a different angle, in a different place, and whatever was omitted from narration in the scene break was omitted for a reason. Which means I need to thin carefully about where to cut into the next scene, why, and how. Thinking of it as cuts in a film is really useful. Now, writing the cuts in more deftly is a trick I’m trying to master — to treat each cut as important in itself, as if each one were a possible beginning moment for the story, part of a unity so deep the fractality shimmers and shines.
  • Long Novellas and Novels. I’m at a point now where I think I can learn from writing longer works, but also where I think I can write a longer work. I have on short-novel maybe half-written, and awaiting my attentions; I have another novel planned, a novel draft to rework and edit and polish, and even an idea for something big, perhaps a duology or trilogy depending on a publisher’s eventual opinion. Writing novels is a long process, and I won’t stop writing short stories — I think they’ll be a kind of solace from the longer process, rest stations along the trail up to the highest peak — but I think it’s time I start taking on a bigger project. So my goals here are: to complete A Killing in Burma (a “short novel” or maybe a “long novella”) by the end of my Winter Vacation; to have Dead Abroad revised and edited (ready for crit) by summer 2008; and to have begun significant work on my alternate-China novel by early fall 2008. Fitting with that:
  • Plotting. Not everyone plots. Me, without a roadmap, I get very lost, and it helps me to have something to consult when I don’t know the way ahead… even if I’m going to abandon the use of my roadmap, it’s nice to have one in store just in case. So I think I’m going to start outlining and plotting pieces before drafting begins, in the same way I sometimes outline my short stories when I return to the first or second draft and begin editing it into a more streamlined, coherent shape.

Reading and Development

  • Read More Fiction. As a latecomer to the genre, I have a lot of catching up to do. However, my marathon runner-style of drafting sometimes encroaches on the rest of my life. I need therefore to integrate a habit of reading more novels (SF and otherwise) into my daily routine. One of my friends stops writing for a week at a time so he can read a novel during that time. I think that sounds reasonable, so I think I’ll try it.
  • Do More Open-Ended Research. Sometimes, I find myself trying to jigger the science in a story to fit the story I want to tell. It’d be better if I knew the science better, and then could dream up stories that work well within it. Likewise, you learn the darnedest things just by reading nonfiction on random subjects. For example, I just learned (from Wilson and Dubro’s Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld) that one important brance of the hardline right wing in Japan that pushed for imperial expansion was the yakuza. I even learned the name of the yakuza organization that was sent over to assassinate Queen Min. There’s room for a story (at least one) in there! Open-ended research is great because it allows for a whole range of ideas to bubble up and flower into story ideas, backgrounds, details, and so on.
  • Active Study of the Craft. My crit group has begun engaging in crit analysis of various award-winning or well-known stories, to find out what makes them tick, and what makes them appeal to readers. We’re even doing exercises connected to the readings. This kind of critical analysis is turning out to be very useful too. I can probably spend some time during my long holidays engaging in independent study of these subjects, and trying to integrate what I learn into my own writing.

So those are my writing goals for the next while.
1. A Korean-American being pestered by an intelligent, talking dog who saw a report about Koreans eating dog on doggy-TV; a story about immigration and life extension in a future, post-Reunification North Korea (the story InterZone just accepted); and a ghost story about the suicide of a Korean comfort woman’s granddaughter and her foreign boyfriend. And since then, I’ve written a few more bits of historical fantasy, as well as a Korea-based Asian superheroes novella. So yes, I write a lot about Korea. 

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